Articles Posted in Product Liability

workplace-150x150Last week’s blog addressed the increase in work place injuries.  While worker’s compensation is generally the exclusive recovery source from the employer, there are other potential sources of recovery. Below are some common scenarios from work place injuries that may result in your ability to recover for your injuries:

Motor Vehicle Accidents/Car Wrecks:

A very common type of third-party claim arising from a workers’ compensation action is when someone gets into a motor vehicle accident or car wreck while driving for work.  Many people drive as part of their jobs: truck drivers, package delivery personnel, sales people who make on-site client visits, construction workers who haul materials, home health workers, even lawyers who have to drive to and from court.

heastone-150x150Lawsuits involving the death of a person in Alabama are generally governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  Alabama handles lawsuits regarding a death in a unique way.  This article will address what is unique about Alabama’s wrongful death statute and the importance of hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney.

When someone is killed in a motor vehicle accident, or dies using a product like an ATV, or otherwise dies because of the fault of someone else, the civil case will be governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute.  In Alabama, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is appointed by the probate court and is entitled to pursue the claim on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.  Unlike many other states, any recovery made for a wrongful death in Alabama does not actually pass through the estate of the deceased person.  If a person has a will, the will does not determine who gets the proceeds of any recovery of the wrongful death case.  If the person’s estate owes money to creditors, the creditors are not allowed to recover any of the money won in the wrongful death case.  Instead, recovery from the wrongful death case is governed by the laws of intestacy in Alabama that govern how a person’s estate would be distributed if they did not have a will.  The typical order of preference under the intestacy statue is for proceeds to go to a spouse, to children, to parents, and then to other relatives in order of relation.  There are special rules, for instance, when someone dies with a spouse and children that are not from that spouse.

Alabama’s wrongful death statute is also unique in the kind of damages that are awarded.  In most states, a person’s lost income they would make in life had they not died comes in as damages.  In this way, different lives are valued differently.  Alabama does not even allow for such damages to be considered.  Alabama takes the view that all life is sacred and of equal worth.  Thus, the only damages that are awarded are punitive damages.  Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish the party who caused the death for their conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in conduct that may lead to someone else’s death.  Alabama treats all lives equally, and so the focus in an Alabama wrongful death case is on the conduct of the defendant rather than how much earning potential was lost when the person died.

“Vaping”, or the use of e-cigarettes, is viewed by many as a healthier – or perhaps less-damaging – alternative to smoking.  E-cigarettes utilize battery power to vaporize a liquid containing nicotine that the consumer then inhales. Although vaping is marketed as a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes, the use of e-cigarettes appears to carry numerous risks, prompting a wave of litigation.

Typically, cases involving e-cigarettes fall into one of the following three categories:

  1. Consumer Fraud, Unfair Competition and False Advertising – Consumers allege that the companies marketing and manufacturing e-cigarettes have made false claims that their products have health benefits or are a safe alternative to smoking, despite evidence that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and other chemicals.

Trial lawyers are often on the lookout for dangerous products.  We are up to date on the latest recalls and companies that have a reputation for making questionable products.  When shopping for our families, we often look for the presence or lack of certain safety features that others would not because we have spent years dealing with the damage and trauma dangerous products can cause a family.

Common household items can often pose unknown hazards.  Button batteries, commonly used in automobile key fobs, watches, and many toys, have become a recent hazard for small children.  Over a 14 year period ending in 2010, approximately 40,000 ER visits resulted from children ingesting batteries, and over half of these cases involved these button batteries.  Button batteries pose several serious health issues for children that have resulted in severe injury and death.  Choking is a major concern that can happen immediately.  Chemical burns to internal organs can also result is serious health issues and can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms often do not appear until days after a child has ingested a battery.

battery-e1483564735814Many toy makers now require a screwdriver to enter the battery compartment of their toys.  While annoying to parents, this is a protection against small children ingesting batteries that is useful.  Some makers of these batteries have ignored the problem, some have begun to warn against the problem, and others have begun to take action to protect children from these now-known dangers.  For instance, a recent trip to the drug store revealed a company with a two-fold approach to preventing children from swallowing these button batteries.  They place a warning directly on the battery to let parents know of the danger.  They also seal the packaging for the batteries so that scissors are needed to open them.  This is the proactive approach to preventing a known harm that some companies are taking to protect the public.  Unfortunately, it can often take years of knowing about a problem and many lawsuits before some companies finally come around to preventing such accidents.  For some companies, customer safety is important enough.  For others, the threat of money damages from their product harming the public is what is needed to improve product safety.

toys
In one of my favorite Holiday movies, “A Christmas Story” the main character Ralphie is a young boy who has his heart set on a “Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle.”  But, whenever he brings it up he is told “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Unfortunately in many cases, the dangers presented by toys are not so obvious as Ralphie’s BB gun.

The World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (W.A.T.C.H.) has published its “Worst Toy” List for 2016, and some of the items are surprising.

Toy #1 is “Peppa Pig’s Muddy Puddles Family”.  Although some packages contain choking hazard warnings and “age 3+” recommendation, other packages are sold for children as young as two and up with no warnings about toy-related hazards.

pictureWith the holidays approaching, more people are on the roads and more accidents are going to happen.

A stark reminder of what happens with increased traffic accident and poorly designed vehicles came out this week. A Georgia court decision this week upheld a $40 million judgment in the death of a four-year-old boy who died when his family’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was rear-ended and burst into flames.

Safety advocates say Remington Walden is one of at least 270 people that have died in similar accidents involving older Jeep Cherokees with rear-mounted fuel tanks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the cases for years but never ordered a formal recall. Lawyers allege that, instead of issuing a recall, federal officials and top FCA executives agreed to a “customer satisfaction campaign” that called for installing safety hitches as a protective measure, even though that solution was never scientifically proven to be effective at a secret 2013 meeting at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has linked more than 50 deaths to the fuel-tank problems.

Samsung has recalled all its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after a series of fires and explosions.  At first Samsung was offering replacement phones, but when these too showed a tendency to explode, Samsung has now apparently pulled the entire product line.  And it is now against the law to even take one of these devices on board a commercial flight.

Like most other electronic devices, the Galaxy Note 7 is powered by a lithium ion battery.  It has been known for years that lithium ion batteries can experience something called “thermal runaway.”  When this happens it creates the possibility of a fire or an explosion.  Fortunately, this is very rare but Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 seems to have a higher probability of experiencing this problem.

As consumers demand faster and faster devices with shorter charging times manufactures may be pushing the limits of lithium ion technology.  This can lead to disastrous results.  Most of the lithium ion batteries used in Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphones is actually supplied by its affiliate, Samsung SDI Company, Inc…  However, some of the batteries used in the Galaxy Note 7 may have been supplies by Amperex Technology, a subsidiary of TDK Corporation, a Japanese company.  The Samsung SDI batteries are manufactured in Cheonan, South Korea and in Tianjin, China but put together in a Vietnamese facility.

car-accident-2-14492951-e1449528550287When a loved one is in an automobile accident that results in a serious injury or even death, it is not uncommon for a family to hire a law firm to represent their interests.  Medical bills, lost wages, the inability to pay for basic things in life because of a loss of income, pain, rehabilitation, loss of life or loss of the enjoyment of life – these are all things that no one is truly able to understand until they have to go through it.  If a serious injury or death is caused by the bad driving or bad decisions of another driver, that person needs to be held accountable for the harm they caused.

Unfortunately, most people driving the roads are not adequately insured to cover a serious injury or death claim.  In Alabama, the minimum insurance limits that are required by law for a driver is $25,000.  If a person with minimum limits seriously injures or kills your loved one, $25,000 is all that is available from the opposing driver’s insurance, which is a drop in the bucket for a serious injury or loss of a loved one.  Many people carry their own underinsured motorist coverage that can also pay, but it is extremely rare for these policies to provide adequate coverage for a serious injury or loss of life.

While most people assume the insurance of the opposing driver and your own insurance is the only possible source of recovery, there are always others avenues that need to be explored by a lawyer in a serious injury or fatal car accident.  One of the main areas our firm researches when helping a family with a serious injury or loss of life is defects in the vehicles themselves.  An issue with steering or a defective tire that blew out may have cause the other car to lose control.  There may have been a defective part on one of the cars that could have prevented the accident from happening in the first place.

Most electronic devices are powered by lithium ion batteries.  This includes cell phones, portable music players, GPS devices, notebook computers and many others.  Lithium ion batteries have long run times, are small and produce a relatively greater amount of energy than other batteries.  However, they do pose certain risks.

The lithium ion cell has a carbon anode (positive) and a metal oxide cathode (negative).  Lithium molecules leave the carbon anode and lose a negatively charged electron leaving behind a lithium ion.  These ions flow through an organic solvent between the anode and the cathode.  This produces electricity.  If the battery is overcharged or produces too much current, or if there are impurities in the cell as a result of sloppy manufacturing procedures, this can result in a short circuit which leads to something called “thermal runaway.”  This is a rise in heat and pressure which is impossible to stop and can cause fires or even an explosion.  Thermal runaway can produce temperatures of over one thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

Needless to say these fires and explosions can cause serious personal injury.  Fortunately, the types of failures that lead to these incidents are extremely rare.  However, electronic devices that have lithium ion battery components have been the subject of many safety recalls and product safety warnings.  Many laptop computers were recalled in 2006; the FAA has recommended restricting their cargo carriage on flights and the International Civil Aviation Organization has banned the shipment of these batteries as cargo on passenger flights.  Recently Samsung issued a massive recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone because of the risk of these batteries exploding.

Electronic cigarettes seem to have become very popular. It is commonly believed that E cigarettes are safer from a health perspective than regular cigarettes. However, there are some serious risks. An electronic cigarette has three basic components: 1) a cartridge that stores the liquid nicotine, 2) an atomizer which heats the liquid nicotine and 3) a battery. The battery is the source of the explosion risk.

Electronic cigarettes use lithium ion batteries. These are very powerful. They are also very common and can be found in any number of electronic devices such as cell phones, cameras and lap tops. The difference with electronic cigarettes is the proximity of the lithium ion battery to the atomizer which is a heating source. Lithium ion batteries are sensitive to extreme temperatures and have been known for some time to have a risk of explosion if they get too hot.

A lithium ion battery explosion is a very significant and destructive event. This is a very hot explosion that can cause significant burn injuries. Sometimes referred to as a thermal runaway, it can cause and has caused serious injury and in rare cases even death.

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